Blog of Rights

House Democrats Vote to Strengthen Legal Services for the Poor

By Sandra Fulton, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 12:48pm

This week, the House Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittee took a nice first step toward restoring the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) to its original form.

LSC was created by Congress in 1974 as an independent nonprofit corporation to help fill in the growing justice gap by providing vital legal assistance to the nation's less fortunate. The program thrived for two decades until the Republican Revolution of 1996, when conservative members crippled the program as part of "comprehensive welfare reform." Among the changes was a prohibition against the LSC handling certain types of cases, including class-action lawsuits.

On Tuesday, Democrats were able to defeat GOP efforts to uphold the restriction barring LSC participation from class-action lawsuits. Class-action suits are vital to low-income individuals who cannot afford to bring a suit alone, and are very common when litigating against predatory lending and consumer fraud scams which tend to target the poor and elderly. Instead of allowing LSC attorneys to defend a broad class of victims, the restrictions currently in place have forced them to go after these cases on an individual basis, placing an enormous strain on an already limited budget.

We applaud the Democrats on the CJS Appropriations Subcommittee for their efforts, but there is still a long way to go. Congress created LSC because it recognized the fact that access to the courts was key to one of our most valued traditions, "equal justice for all." This statement is as true today as it was in 1974.

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